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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dishin' with Dendahl; He Gets Debate Stage Solo As Bill Skips; How Did He Do? Plus: Shades Of James B. As GOP Poses Patsy As A Puppet 

John Dendahl managed to get off all his money lines last night in what was perhaps his one and only chance to directly address a wide swath of state voters via live television. But while rallying the GOP base against Big Bill--"The Governor is a dictator"--"Bill Richardson has ruled rather corruptly"-- Dendahl found himself dealing with his own baggage, namely his advocacy for legalizing drugs.

Dendahl was given 25 minutes of free air time when Big Bill declined KOB-TV's offer to debate the former NM GOP state chairman. He was interviewed by veteran news anchors Carla Aragon and Tom Joles who were their usual cordial selves, but brought to the table key questions of Campaign 06' which the camera-comfortable Dendahl relished answering.

The 68 year old Santa Fe native, dapperly dressed in a light gray business suit with a black and blue tie, looked like an IBM executive answering questions at a business seminar. But the look belied the rhetoric which was often harsh and somewhat personal.

"He is not an honest, straight-talking" Governor...He is two-faced," said Dendahl of Big Bill in rhetoric familiar from his days as the self-described "carpet bombing" party chairman.

The Richardson campaign has been critical of Dendahl for being a candidate who just "wants to tear down the state" and doesn't have anything positive to offer.

That charge still dangled in the air after the interview, as Dendahl was long on criticisms of the administration, but did not offer many highly detailed solutions. Perhaps he is a bit gun shy after earlier campaign miscues.

For example, he was careful to say that New Mexico has a "few great teachers" and "a few great schools" and the state ought to hold them up as examples on how to improve education. In a radio interview this summer, Dendahl misfired and said NM educators were teaching "socialism"

For a campaign that has been long on attacking and short on solutions, it was surprising that Dendahl's best performance came when he tackled that most complex of issues--water.

"Eighty percent of our water is used in agriculture. We need a better use of the market to sell that water for city use and development...We need more efficient irrigation for agriculture," declared Dendahl just days after Big Bill proclaimed that the 2007 session of the Legislature will be "The Year of Water."

THE HAUNTING PAST

But it was an old bugaboo that tripped up the old warrior. He was asked about the meth epidemic racing through the state. Without prompting from Aragon or Joles, Dendahl brought up his support for legalizing drugs.

"I am on the record saying the drug war is a disaster...Until we get legalization on the table and discuss it we are not going to solve the problem," said Dendahl, but quickly adding: "That's not part of my campaign."

But the proverbial cat was out of the bag and the confident candidate for a moment looked sheepish and uncertain.

Dendahl was more his old self as he condemned the $100 million spaceport--"If it has commercial viability, private capital will see that it gets built. I don't think we need to put a hundred million dollars into that deal just to build up Richardson's image," He jabbed.

He was also strong on his fiscal conservative credentials.

"We should not be spending our state endowments on films...We should not be putting money into spaceports or a billion dollar sinkhole like the commuter railroad. These initatives are financially ruinous...Our endowment is being squandered." He argued.

MY ANALYSIS

While Dendahl said his image as a divisive figure is "unfair" because he has spent most of his career working in business and "getting along with people," his reluctance, or inability, to put forth a comprehensive agenda capped his appeal and left the "old" Dendahl image more noticeable than he may have liked.

The GOP standardbearer did himself some good last night, but the signs of a late starting campaign and one that does not have heart and soul into the contest lingered. In his heyday, John Dendahl was one of the most powerful state party chairmen in history. His gubernatorial stint will be an asterisk placed well below that achievement.

I'M YOUR PUPPET

Patsy's a puppet too. As was done with Dem Treasurer candidate James B. Lewis by his R opponent Demesia Padilla, the NM GOP has sent out a mailer showing Dem congressional candidate Patricia Madrid portrayed as a puppet on strings. In this one, the attorney general is being manipulated by "San Francisco liberal" and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi who would become Speaker of the House if the Dems gain control of that body Nov. 7.

The Lewis flier sparked a storm of controversy with Dems, and some R's, who said it was borderline racism as it caricatured African-American Lewis as a puppet of Big Bill's. I tried hard to post the flier, but it came in a huge file from an Alligator and I just couldn't do it. (Maybe GOP headquarters has extra ones.)

Madrid as a puppet of Pelosi's is not political dynamite. In fact, placed in a plaid skirt with her arms raised over her head, she looks kind of like a cheerleader. But James Lewis looking like a dancing Mr. Bojangles? Well, that's something we'll be talking about for years and your grandchildren will someday read of in the lengthy and storied book of our beloved La Politica.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2006
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